By Moe Stephens, General Council Member-at-Large
In case you haven’t heard, the United States just finished a pretty significant process. Election time for me always comes with mixed emotions of excitement for potential change or fear of the same. As a university administrator, all of the election coverage also got me to think about the election process for fraternities and sororities across North America. Many of you are electing new executive boards and might be feeling many of the same emotions I described above.
If you are running for, or have recently been elected, president of your chapter, the task before you is likely intimidating, exciting and full of the unknown.
I must preface the following with the realization that I am by no means an expert in fraternity and sorority life. I am well versed and have many experiences in this area, but it is such a dynamic environment that I believe you are the experts because you are living it.
That being said, I often meet with new presidents and I provide the following advice:
Communicate authentically – There are so many different constituent groups a chapter president must communicate with, it can be hard to remember whom you have brought into the loop. If you are practicing what I call authentic communication, it shouldn’t matter. Everyone you are bringing to the table will have the same information. It will require you to be honest with both yourself and your chapter. Authentic communication is not always the easiest course of action but, I guarantee you, it will only help. When the fecal matter hits the oscillating device, the more trust you have developed with your various constituent groups, the easier it will be to work through the challenge before you.
You are now living in the fishbowl – The Phi Delta Theta Chapter at the University of Washington has a large glassed in dining area they call the fishbowl. The sidewalk and street right outside are well travelled with students and community members passing by. The chapter eats there, holds social events there, and often has special meetings in the fishbowl. I have always thought it was great that the public could see into the daily life of a Phi Delt at UW. However, I have also thought about how difficult that might be at times. Everything the chapter does in that room is visible and anyone passing by will draw their own conclusions about what is happening. As a chapter president, you are now living in that fishbowl. Your actions and words are being seen and heard; often by people you are not even aware are watching and listening. You are setting an example for your brothers and broadcasting a message to the rest of your community. Make sure it is the right example. Be certain it is the right message.
Make good choices – I often end meetings with the phrase, “Make good choices.” Outside of the context of sorority and fraternity life, this simple phrase is much more difficult and open to interpretation. As a member of a fraternity or sorority, it is actually very simple. Learn and live the ritual of your organization. Within your ritual are values that are relevant and have withstood the changing times. As Dr. Ed King stated in his classic piece, The Secret Thoughts of Ritual, “Because I am a system of values, I am therefore, an instrument of self evaluation. My values are clear and absolute and yet difficult to emulate. To state a few, I am honor, courage, integrity, fidelity, courtesy and I demand self control as well as ambition and humility. What your Founders did is take the idea of friendship and move it a significant step forward to the concept of commitment.” As a fraternity and sorority advisor, I do not think you are going to be perfect. However, I do expect that you and your chapter members think about the values of your organization and use them to guide your decisions. Imagine how much easier it would be to make decisions as an executive board if you consistently asked the simple question, “How does this align with Friendship, Sound Learning or Rectitude?”
Own it – You must be willing to accept responsibility for the actions of your chapter, both past and present. Noted entrepreneur and author Jim Rohn once said, “You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself.” Once you decide it is time to own it, you can begin the process of creating positive change.
Enjoy the ride – Being a chapter president is arguably the most difficult leadership position on a college campus. You are a role model, a counselor, a mentor, an administrator, an advisor and a spokesperson. Expectations for chapter presidents are high, and they should be. However, many chapter presidents get so caught up in being all things to all people that they forget to simply be a sister or a brother. Along with the rest of the responsibilities you have as a chapter president, it is important for you to remember to have fun, take care of yourself and enjoy the ride.
My preference for this blog entry would be for this to be a conversation, and not just me giving advice. Of course, this is not an extensive list of advice for new presidents; I am not sure one could even be compiled. I am interested in hearing from all of you, mainly because your voice is the one that truly matters.
Moe has many years of progressive leadership and success in Greek Affairs. He has traveled the country working for Phi Delta Theta as both a Leadership Consultant and as the Director of Expansion. Moe and his wife, Allison, and their daughter Maya are enjoying the Pacific Northwest where Moe is the Assistant Director of Student Activities at the University of Puget Sound. Moe was the AFLV West’s Greek Advisor of the Year in 2005. Moe has a passion for the outdoors and enjoys rock climbing, cycling and golf. He also never passes up the opportunity to play ultimate frisbee. Previously, Moe served the Fraternity as the Pi North Province President, Awards Committee and Survey Commissioner. Moe is currently serving the Fraternity as the General Council Member-at-Large.